Keep Your Audience on Your Side: 3 Tips to Crisis Communication on Social Media

By Natalie Lowe

The Hoffman Agency, Shanghai

Recently I was asked the following question on Twitter by @12mass:

crisis communication on social media

While this topic is not new, I thought it would be beneficial to revisit some of the key tips to diffusing a crisis on social media:


1.       Be sociable on social.

Even though the conversation is taking place in the virtual world, at the end of the day, there are people behind those tweets and posts you’re reading. So while it’s natural to be defensive about negative comments targeted at your brand – whether it be personal or on behalf of the company – it’s important that we remain friendly and professional at all times.

Tip: Refrain from (a) deleting the comment, (b) getting angry and responding in an abrasive manner or (c) just ignoring the comment. None of these will diffuse a crisis. If anything, they will have a negative impact on your brand.


2.       Be responsive.

Social media is usually the first communications platform people go to when they want to spread the word. So upon learning of a crisis, reach out to your audience and inform them of the situation immediately. Don’t delay your initial communication.

Take for example Southwest flight 345 which disastrously landed nose first at LaGuardia Airport in 2013.

More than 40 tweets were posted online with pictures from the scene within minutes of the accident. Fortunately, Southwest was already communicating with the public using an official hashtag and reassuring stakeholders. Thirty minutes after the accident occurred, they released a statement acknowledging the incident and promising to investigate the matter further.

 crisis communication on social media

Compare this to the recent MH370 incident, and how Malaysia Airlines has been under fire for its poor handling of the situation, both offline and online.

Despite losing all communications with the airplane at 2:40 a.m., Malaysia Airlines did not issue its first statement until roughly five hours later.

crisis communication on social media

Tip: Keep your audience on your side by keeping them informed. By being nimble in your social media activity – and responding quickly in a crisis – your fans will feel more confident in your ability to handle difficult situations.

And lastly …


3.       Be sincere, authentic and empathetic.

When you have angry or distrusting customers or business partners, it’s important to acknowledge their frustrations and put yourself in their shoes. Try to identify the root cause of their concerns, and work with them to find a solution.

If it’s the brand’s fault, and an apology is warranted, you’ll need to handle it with care.

There’s no better example of an insincere apology than the BP Oil Spill in 2010. After apologizing to the public as a result of the damage BP had caused, Tony Hayward said, “No one wants this to be over more than I do. I want my life back.”

crisis communication on social media

Tip: Apologize with conviction. Just like your mother, your audience can tell when you don’t mean “I’m sorry.”

Do you have any other tips when it comes to engaging with an online audience during a crisis? If so, share them in the comments below.

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